Active Prayer: a powerful little practice

A practice that I was introduced to years ago, that I have been revisiting lately, has been a prayer practice called “Active Prayer,” or another way that I’ve heard it referred to has been called “Breath Prayer.” It’s pretty simple: an active or breath prayer is a 6-12 word prayer that you pray throughout the day (usually inside yourself), and is short enough that you can pray it in the length of a breath. The active prayer is a way that many throughout history have put the following scriptures into practice:

“I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall always be in my mouth.” – Psalm 34:1

“Pray without ceasing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:17

A traditional active prayer is what has been called the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner” –  or simplified even more, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.” Whether the Jesus prayer or another prayer that you feel the Lord leads you to pray, the active prayer is a prayer of intention that I’ve experienced has a way of leading to attention (experiencing the Lord’s presence throughout the day), and it is so powerful. Just a simple little phrase can lead to our hearts becoming open and present to God, and experiencing transformation in our lives. It’s like a seed, that though it is so small, when planted and nurtured, it brings forth fruit. As I’ve been reintegrating this back into my life, there are a few things that I’ve been experiencing as gifts.

Rewriting old commentaries

One gift that I’ve received through active prayer has been the way that it acts on a subconscious level to rewrite the voices or commentaries that contribute to false narratives in my life. For instance, a prayer that I’ve used since my early twenties has been:

Father, I receive Your passionate/extravagant love.

When voices of my False Self kick up saying things like,”Your opinion doesn’t matter,” or “You don’t matter,” this prayer has rewired not only my brain, but also my heart to recognize what matters: that I am loved beyond comprehension, beyond my own reach, beyond myself (what I do or don’t do), and through the rubble of a chaotic society, the only opinion in the universe that really matters, is always inviting me to experience Him more. I have found myself receiving a wild, untamed, unfathomable love throughout the day, and very often, it fuels me through days of lack of sleep, anxieties, stresses, and lack of coffee. 🙂

Grace to go into uncharted territories

Sometimes I’ve found that for a season of life the Lord may lay a prayer on my heart to utilize as an active prayer. For instance, for the past few years, a prayer that I’ve been using often is a phrase inspired by and pulled from the Franciscan Prayer of Peace: “Make us instruments of Your peace.” I pray it often when at home, for my family, as the Lord is teaching me how to be a husband and a father.


Pray for a prayer

Take some time in solitude and silence, and ask the Lord for a phrase to integrate into your life as an active/breath prayer. Again, it isn’t long, it is just a short, easy to remember prayer that you can pray multiple times throughout the day. Here are some more examples:

“Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.”

“Come Holy Spirit.”

“My God and my all.”

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

“Lord, I long for more of You.”

Practice and make it a part of your day

Start practicing your active/breath prayer. Spend some time with your prayer phrase, first in quiet, then throughout the day.

  • In quiet: Spend time with the phrase. Ponder it’s meaning and say the words, practice its rhythm.
  • Throughout the day: Whether driving in the car, in moments of silence, on lunch break, or in between meetings, pray your simple phrase. I’ve found that the more I do active prayer, the easier this prayer rises up in me when I’m in even the most challenging situations.

Bless you, as you pray.



Learning to Sing and Dance: a ragamuffin blessing

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. – Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

A blessing that I categorize as a ‘dangerous blessing,’ is one that Larry Hine, Brennan Manning’s spiritual director, gave to Manning at his ordination. I kiddingly call them ‘dangerous blessings,’ because, as I mentioned in my post “A Beautifully Uncomfortable Blessing,” it’s not that they do harm, but they courageously embrace what we would normally consider desolation for the purpose of the greatest consolation: experiencing the Love of Christ more deeply.

The thing that resonates with me regarding these ‘dangerous blessings,’ is that they embrace an important truth of the Christian’s spiritual life.  Inward transformation happens, not in the safety and security of everything trucking along smoothly, but in the bumps, potholes, and detours of life. As we cling to the Lord, that’s where the growth happens.

This blessing goes:

May all of your expectations be frustrated
May all of your plans be thwarted
May all of your desires be withered into nothingness
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child
And sing and dance in the love of God, who is Father, Son, & Holy Spirit

Bless you as you learn to sing and dance in the love of God – through the droughts, storms, and dark nights.

*CHECK OUT the movie “Brennan,” a movie about Brennan Manning that is now available to buy, in store, at Wal-Mart, as well as online in many places.

Consolation, Desolation, and the Examen Prayer

He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor. -St. Ignatius of Loyola

Something that has been paradigm shifting for me has been the Examen prayer. As a husband, father and non-profit worker, the Examen has been impactful for me, for self-awareness as well as for my spiritual development in Christ-centered discernment. I’ve found that it’s a useful tool to see where God is at work, and is calling me to Himself throughout the day. Along with this prayer (that I’ll share below), there is language (terms) that Ignatius introduces us to, called: “consolations and desolations.” Generally put, a desolation is the experience of situations or circumstances that distract or pull us away from the Lord. Consolations are those experiences that draw us closer to the Lord.

Now, consolation doesn’t necessarily mean it is a manifestly pleasant circumstance, and desolation doesn’t mean that it is bad situation. Negative things can happen in our lives, which actually help us draw closer to the Lord and help us to experience more of His love (that would actually make it a consolation). Likewise, seemingly positive things can happen in our lives, and at first they may seem like good things, but latently we may recognize that they steal our affections from the Lord and distract us from what matters most (that would make it a desolation). It is really about the attention and focus of our hearts through those experiences. That is one of the reasons that it has been paradigm shifting for me: that every interaction and situation can be a part of experiencing more of the Lord. Every moment can lead to transformation. It takes His grace to see those moments when He is inviting us to draw near to Him, and this is a great exercise to cultivate that.

The steps for the Examen Prayer, as I explain them, are:

Invite the Lord’s Presence & Ask for Perspective
Quiet yourself, give thanks for the day, and invite Holy Spirit to speak. Ask the Lord for grace to see how He is working in your life.

Review the Day
Carefully look back on the day. Recall the events and details, conversations and feelings. What did you experience in your body? What did you give a lot of thought to? What did you experience emotionally?

Reflect on the Day: Consolations and Desolations
Ask the questions of consolation and desolation.
Consolation: “What has led me closer to the Lord?”
Desolation: “What has distracted me or pulled me away from the Lord?”

Look Forward to Tomorrow
Ask the question, “Where do I need God’s grace in the day to come?” Pray to receive that grace, and thank the Lord for His abiding presence in your life.


A Beautifully Uncomfortable Blessing

I love blessings: prayers asking for God’s favor and protection.

From the ones we find in Scripture, to the long tradition of blessings that have been passed on from generation to generation through rich heritage, I’ve been greatly impacted by having others pray them over me. I also enjoy praying blessings over others, and there are some blessings that I kiddingly call “safe blessings,” and some that I call, “dangerous blessings” – not that they do harm, but they embrace what we would normally consider desolation for the purpose of the greatest consolation of experiencing the Love of Christ more deeply.

This is one of my favorites, that I categorize as a “dangerous blessing.” While I’m not sure of its origination, it is credited to the Franciscan tradition. It goes:

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy

And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.